Off-roading ATVs in Icelandic Lava Fields

A few fillings remained in my teeth after my first ATV drive through the lava fields of southwest Iceland.  So, despite that small mishap where I rear-ended the machine in front of me (oops!), I was ready to do it again a couple of days later.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You get your kicks from white-knuckle adventure.
  • It’s exhilarating and a great way to get a close-up view of off-road Iceland.
  • Great for adventurous drivers of any ability.
Four-wheeling in Icelandic lava fields.

Four-wheeling in Icelandic lava fields.

Hell-black lava rocks the size of human skulls along the black sand trail make this a game of dodge and wobble. A metaphor for the rocky road of life itself. Our trek began in the fishing harbor town of Grindavik with an outfit known as ATV 4X4 and led to a hill of smoke and fire. A metaphor for an afterlife I don’t care to anticipate.

The mostly off-road trail passed the fish-fragrant harbor and started our group of 12 four-wheel all-terrain vehicles on an easy, relatively smooth climb, to get our bearings. We passed sheep, squat and sturdy Icelandic horses, the skeleton of a ship, a lighthouse, and other open-air artifacts.

Then the leisure ride ended as jaw-jarring terrain lay ahead, demanding rapt attention to the rocky, pot-holed trail ahead. At least that was my excuse when I failed to stop in time behind the ATV ahead of me. No dents or injuries, luckily.

Driving on the Moon

The Reykjanes peninsula south of capital Reykjavik knits an eerily bleak landscape of ancient lava fields splotched with green and graying moss that put me in mind of something I’d thrown out of my refrigerator before I left home. Others compare it to the moon, and in fact Apollo 11 astronauts trained on this terrain.

About halfway through the two-hour bump-and-grind, our tour guides stopped at the smoking hill, where we left our vehicles to hike – clad in heavy boots, gloves, and jumpsuits – among the glow of expelled sulfur gases and veil of ominous smoke. This is how the earth farts, one Icelander told me. It clearly smelled that way.

My ATV partner and I took turns driving, but the soreness in my arms the next day came equally from clutching the handlebars and death-gripping in the back seat.

Iceland's patent moonscape

Iceland’s patent moonscape

Our guides assured us that if we returned to do it again later in our stay, they would take us on a different route. They failed to mention the words “white knuckles.” Because just like life, as soon as you think you have it figured out and under control, up come the mud holes of undeterminable depth, the sheer mountains, and the chronic rockiness.

Top of the World

My second ATV adventure followed a morning of light rain that proved the value of the awkward get-ups we were required to don, this time with an added layer of orange rubber bib overalls and jacket. Quite fetching.

We started out on the same “bunny hill” to get our ATV legs. The climax of this tour – in more ways than one – was at the top of a 250-meter mountain. To get there meant going more or less straight up at full throttle as mud and gritty lava sand speckled my helmet and face, forcing its way into my teeth.

But what a rush! Who knew I was an adrenaline junkie. And the view from the top made it all worthwhile.

The rest of the ride continued to throw challenges in front of me. At one point, the road got so rocky, it ripped the handlebars right out of my hand. The inclination at first was to slow down, but then you would lose your steering agility and the bumps felt, well bumpier.

So the moral of the story? What else? When life gets steep and bumpy, open your eyes, grit your teeth, and fly.

Your author in full ensemble

Your author in full ensemble

Practicalities

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